When Tony Blair criticised the media back in June his chief complaint was that it was having a ‘seriously adverse’ impact on public life.
The government’s chief scientific adviser has just gone considerably further by accusing the Daily Mail of threatening the lives of 50-100 children as a consequence of the links the paper has drawn between MMR and autism. “My charge there” he said (reported in The Guardian), “is that your [the Daily Mail's] highly successful campaign has potentially led to a situation where we could have 50 or 100 children dying of measles in the UK”.
Johann Hari went further still in yesterday’s Independent by focusing the accusation on Melanie Phillips who, he said, ‘spearheaded the MMR campaign’. ‘From this species of ignorance’ Hari argued ‘has flowed a serious risk of children dying’.
Sir David King’s comments came after the Health Protection Agency last week announced that measles is spreading faster than at any time in the past 10 years ‘sparking fears of an epidemic’ (this quote from the – never scaremongering – Express).
Vaccination currently stands at an average of 85% (it needs to be at 95% to prevent the disease spreading). But this figure is misleading since it disguises the fact that in some areas of the country vaccination levels are much lower.
Yet the Mail should not be the only paper singled out. The Observer ran an astonishingly misleading cover story back in July in which it said new research renewed suggestions of a link (see Ben Goldacre’s ‘The MMR Story that Wasn’t’).
The remarkable thing about the Mail is that not only does it not think it necessary to respond to the Chief Scientists accusations, but it continues – despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary (and evidence that its coverage threatens lives) to suggest a link. Only on Sunday, at the bottom of an article titled ‘£500,000 for boy left fighting for life after being used as ‘MMR guinea pig’, the paper pointed readers to the Mail on Sunday’s ‘expert guide to MMR’.
The ‘expert guide’ (‘Your guide to MMR‘) begins: ‘The MMR vaccination that protects children against measles, mumps and rubella has long courted controversey [sic], since Dr Andrew Wakefield, published research that challenged the safety of the triple jab.’
It then says that though ‘the vast majority of GPs maintain that the vaccination is safe… many parents are still unsure whether the MMR vaccination can be trusted – or whether it does indeed have a link to the rise in cases of autism and bowel disease’. It does not seek to reassure these parents.
After then running through the ‘Pros’, the guide lists the ‘Cons’, including that ‘The MMR jabs have attracted a great deal of controversy in the past 20 years, due to clinical studies linking the vaccine to a number of serious side-effects’ – one of them being, you guessed it, autism.
As a parent, reading this expert guide, it would hard not to come away feeling anxious about giving your child the triple vaccination, and seriously consider paying for single vaccinations, if not avoiding the vaccinations altogether.
I’ll be interested to see if, despite Sir David King’s comments, the Mail keeps its ‘expert guide’ unchanged. Given its silence to date I suspect it’ll still be there come Christmas.